WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — There are more than 1,200 abused, abandoned and neglected children in Palm Beach County’s Guardian ad Litem program. And within the program, there are over 500 court-appointed volunteers who serve as their advocates both in and out of the courtroom. This also includes suicide prevention. And in recognition of Suicide Awareness Month, there’s a need for more powerful voices for children.
Guardian ad Litem program staff advocate Pamela Brooks is headed to the 15th Judicial Circuit Juvenile Court.
“Representation matters,” Brooks said.
She has two hearings on the docket, but there’s also a team of volunteers working behind the scenes.
“What they do is help us with some of the leg work,” Brooks said.
It’s a court-appointed position her boss, Guardian ad Litem circuit director, and attorney Michelle Canaday takes personally. Canaday too was raised in foster care.
”They go out and meet with the child, and they meet with the family and the school and the therapists and learn what would be best for that child and come in and advocate for that in court,” Canaday said. “I wanted to make a difference for kids growing up in the system.”
And Canaday says the advocacy saves lives and families.
”They’re either advocating for reunification with the parents, or we advocate for adoption or maybe living with a relative,” Canaday said.
“What does the child really want,” added Brooks.
The program estimates children in foster care are two-and-a-half times more likely to consider suicide than other youth and four times more likely to try it which is why volunteers can work with children for years.
”Read their history. Take the time to really read the file and find out who this person is — this person is just not a case, this child is a person with a lot of depth to them and so we need to get to the heart of what’s going on,” Brooks said.
And there’s also a need for more Black male volunteers. 45-percent of children within Palm Beach County’s program are Black.
“We need more Black males. Our Black males are suffering,” Brooks said. "We need men to focus on these young male lives and let them know how they made it. Be honest and transparent and help them break out of the system."
”Where does that number come from? Why do we have that number,” Canaday added. “We need to focus on how to keep kids with their parents in their home and looking at our own racial bias to do it. We need to address it.”
If you’d like to be a voice for children in court you must be 21 or over, take a background check, attend 30 hours of training and commit to at least 10 hours a month representing children. To learn more, click here.